Oregon lawmakers want to compensate people wrongly convicted

| May 13, 2021 | Post-conviction Relief |

In a much overdue move, Oregon legislators in March introduced a bill that would provide compensation to people who wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Known as Senate Bill 499, the legislation would require that people exonerated from the crimes receive payments of $65,000 for each year imprisoned. In addition, they would get as much as $25,000 for each year on parole or court supervision, have their records expunged, while giving the court the right to offer financial assistance for housing and counseling.

People wrongly convicted have their lives interrupted, missing out on life milestones. They serve time behind bars for crimes they did not do, while society labels them as incorrigible criminals. And when they finally are released, they have difficulty transitioning to their newfound freedom because they have no money, are reliant on others and their job prospects slim.

Many states have similar laws in place

Oregon may join 35 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government that already have such laws in place. The average compensation amount is an estimated $50,000 each year. Neighboring Idaho passed similar legislation known as the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act, and its governor signed the bill into law on March 5. Exonerees in that state will receive $62,000 for each year incarcerated or $75,000 for every year death row.

Senate Bill 499 represents a bipartisan effort as its sponsors are Sens. Kim Thatcher, a Republican, and Chris Gorsek, a Democrat. The bill is currently in Senate committee.

Among those applauding the effort is U.S. Army veteran Earl Bain who served more than six years in prison for a wrongful conviction on first-degree sexual abuse. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown pardoned Bain in August after questionable details surfaced surrounding his case. For example, investigators and his public defender mishandled the case; there were no witnesses or physical evidence; and the accuser recanted her story.

Oregon is catching up with other states on this issue. These ongoing steps must be taken to ensure that every person wrongfully convicted of a crime receives some type of acknowledgement that they were unjustly treated.